Where Has the Magic Gone?

Empty-Headed at Apple Expo

by Ric Erickson

Apple Expo

Paris:- Friday, 20. September 1996:- While doing this magazine, I can hear a harddisk or a ventilator, or both, day and night and as long as I can hear them the machine is running and all I care about is that it keeps on running - but sometimes when I'm late to finish - really late, I wish the thing would blow a fuse so I could go back to being a 'chomeur' again.

I'm glad I didn't have any money today when I showed up at the Porte de Versailles for this year's version of Apple's lonely party in France. I'm sure there was lots of new, good, exciting software that I would want to have if I had money - software that would roll around on the harddisk for months on end - usually until I would get an upgrade offer in the mail; which would force me to realize - why upgrade software I have no time to use?

computer

I have a closet full of neat boxes of all shapes and sizes, perhaps more than the average software shop. They are good for storing the user manuals from the last versions. Old or new versions, I haven't read either. Well, you know, Mac-freaks don't read them anyhow. We just phone customer service and listen to telephone robots and crappy music and push buttons on the phone for the various options of service, until lunchtime when the whole system is switched to full-robot.

I thought I would write about the 'bazar' aspect of the Expo because software is expensive in France. Everybody waits all year until the Expo and then they go and get what they need - and if they wait until the last minute, just before the last one is sold, they get it for a fair price. But, without money of my own, my heart wasn't in it.

So I was drifting around, not really looking at anything in particular, when I saw this nice-looking red-haired lady standing in a big empty carpeted space beside a huge TV set, holding a sort of joystick, shaped like a little boomerang with some buttons on it.

Showing on the TV were images from the French-made CD-ROM 'Virtual Tourisme,' the one with the QuickTime so-called 'Virtual Reality' 360 degree panoramic photos of Paris. I wrote about this CD-ROM early in the life of Metropole, and here it was again, on TV. The daze cleared from my head, allowing me to notice a little odd-shaped box on top of the TV.

Joan Spottswood told me it is called 'Pippin.' I said, "It's the set-top box!'

This is the famous $500 gizmo that everybody is going to buy so they can hook it up to their super giant enormous wide-screen stereo TV sets, in order to play their favorite rap-dap CD-Audios and multimedia CD-ROMs and maybe even dial up 'Yahoo!' and, just think, maybe even this very magazine you are reading right this very minute, this Metropole. Yikes!

pippin

The set-top box exists and will be coming to a toy store near you at year's end or early next year. Forget the Expo, forget buying an overpriced, outrageously complicated and unreliable multimedia computer that needs a new operating system per year at $100 per user, forget all that sexy spread-sheet software; just forget it and get a 'Pippin.' Plug it in, hook it up and your worries are over. Software will come to you and you will send money to them, without leaving your living room, without even putting down your bowl of popcorn.

Well, there are a couple of 'ifs' and 'buts.' The French price is supposed to be in the 5-6,000 franc range - just below an entry-level computer, and that is a fair amount more than the much-touted magic $500 - but that's not news, in France. The little machine needs a fair amount of accessories in order to be fully operational - like for making toast and mixing cocktails, but this is mere nit-picking.

Ms. Spottswood and I had a nice chat about all this and I went away feeling better about this Mac in front of me, now that what I do with it will shortly be available to people who have never heard the words 'user manual' and are completely outnumbered when trying to program their VCRs.

Quite by accident I tripped upon another illegal immigrant to the Expo in the form of Jean Calmon, who is pushing Jean-Louis Gassée's geekmachine, the BeBox, in France. He was surrounded by hungry-looking guys in less-than pristine jeans who must have been those odd people who are sometimes referred to as 'developers.' This alone isn't worth a mention, except hidden in the back of their tiny stand, was a sign that said 'BeOS for the Mac.'

Apple expo

This might be big news for a lot of poor people bedeviled by 'operating systems,' if I may use one of those obscure 'developer' terms; but I think maybe it is a personal joke Jean-Louis is playing on me because he knows I am burned up about putting out a hundred bucks a year for yet another 'operating system' that constantly says, 'Error 548 - Under Construction, Sorry for the Inconvenience, and Have A Nice Day' just as everything freezes and the only way to get it going again is the get the guardian of the building to turn off the power so I can unpeel my hand off the 'mouse.'

You know why is it called the 'mouse?' Because, when you put your hand on it, it goes for the cheese, the wire thing clangs shut on your hand, and you are trapped.

Going out, I decided to get a computer for my little kid and my wife, and so I would have a backup for the klotz in front of me. The nice lady wrote out the order, added it up and I wrote my name on it. Sigh. I reached into my pocket for the plastic - and my pocket was empty. No plastic, no cheques, no papers, no money, nothing. I walked out with what I'd come in with. Really lightweight. Like this piece.

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